THE GOLDEN DOOR
The rehabilitation, education, internship opportunities, and employment of the ENTRY POINT! students could only happen here. Only in America. Although some countries may have fine medical institutions, and a few others may offer early intervention in terms of health care, preschool, and special education, no country besides the United States has mandated a free and appropriate education from birth to age 22 for all children with disabilities, accessible programs to all who qualify for higher education, and nondiscrimination policies in employment. The additional benefits of the ADA, including access to public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications, further expand options for students with disabilities. If the streets in the United States are not actually paved with gold, there are certainly golden opportunities.
Some cultures are blatantly prejudiced against students with disabilities. Families of children with disabilities are willing to give up economic and professional status to immigrate to the United States so that their children will prosper.
Betty Chen's personal web site at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), where she is working on a master's degree in information technology (IT), includes a page called Betty's Dragon Land that begins with a banner headline proclaiming, "Born to be a Dragon!" In ancient Chinese legend, dragons were not the evil, fire-breathing monsters that the word "dragon" often brings to mind in the West. Rather, they were wise, confident, strong, energetic, ambitious, and capable of taking on great challenges.
Ancient Chinese legend has it that the animal sign of one's birth shapes one's character. By virtue of her birth in 1976 (one of the recent years of the dragon), Betty can claim those attributes. By virtue of her achievements, she has earned them.
Kuan Ling (Betty) Chen became deaf a few days after birth because of a serious infection that occurred in the hospital, in Taiwan where her parents lived. Both mom and dad were college graduates who owned a toy-making business. "When I was growing up, I read a lot of books, Chinese books," Betty said. "My parents tutored me. They hired a private tutor for English and math. I can write Chinese, including Cantonese, but Mandarin is my primary language. I kept at grade level in Taiwan."
One day, Betty's parents bought a computer, which she remembers as "ancient" by today's standards. It was one of the original IBM-compatible personal computers, which used MS-DOS. Using it meant learning all kinds of arcane command statements that had to be keyboarded word for word: "Copy c:filename a:" It was her earliest awareness of computers, and it helped to kindle her interest in information technology.
Discovering the golden door
The Chens were well traveled, knew English, and were aware that educational and career opportunities in general were better for young people in the United States. Any plans the Chens might have had for sending their children to American schools went on the fast track when mom met a representative of the Clarke School for the Deaf. A Clarke team consisting of Dennis and Karen Gjerdingen and Janice Gatty went to Taiwan in 1990 to make a presentation at the Sino - American Symposium on Deaf Education.
"We had one session in Taipai, and hundreds of people were waiting patiently for us with their children in their arms when we arrived," Dennis recalled. "What I saw then was a country with great potential resources in technology that was seemingly ignoring the potential human resources of its students who are hearing impaired. Much, much time was spent in schools on beautiful art projects. However, art was not likely to lead to productive employment. My suggestion was that they retrain staff into teaching more science and technology. I understand that today in ROC there exists more potential."
Betty's mom learned from the Clarke contingent that there would be a better education system and career prospects in the United States. Likely careers for individuals who are hearing impaired at that time in Taiwan included food service, hair care, dog grooming, and office helper positions.
New home, new opportunities
So the Chens sent Betty and her older brother, Jack, to live with relatives and start new lives in the United States. Betty moved to the United States in 1990, the year the ADA was signed into law. The young Chens stayed with a cousin in New Jersey. Jack eventually got a degree from Cornell University and a job with America Online, which converted his student visa into a green card. A younger brother now is studying at Cornell.
Betty was mainstreamed in a public school in Mt. Lakes, NJ, with an oral program, which emphasized teaching students to speak English and lip-read. "At first, I felt awkward, and my cousin would tease me, and other people would ridicule me about the way I spoke English. I was weak in math word problems because of my poor English skills. But I progressed."
The range of services provided for Betty by the public school system in Mt. Lakes included four interpreters who used Signed English. Betty now uses American Sign Language (ASL). Betty remembers learning English mainly from reading books. At home with her cousin, Betty had a telecommunication device for the deaf (TDD) for making telephone calls. The television did not have a closed-caption chip. At school, Betty did watch captioned movies, which also helped improve her English skills. "I sometimes wish I had gone to a deaf school for high school," Betty said. "I was very isolated at home and was not a part of school life with lots of friends."
Several out-of-school experiences had a significant impact. One was a five-week summer program for gifted students who are deaf that was held at Boys Town in Nebraska. "We had lectures and workshops. We learned about what then was the new interstate telephone relay system (mandated by the ADA). We also went horseback riding, skating, and camping." The second was a four-week Youth Leadership Camp for students who are deaf, held in Oregon by the National Association for the Deaf. Betty learned ASL at the camp and began using it instead of Signed English. She made a lot of friends and was sorry that they all lived so far from her home in New Jersey.
Betty did extremely well in high school, and teachers encouraged her to continue in college. "I was struggling to decide between social work and information technology," Betty said. She participated in the vestibule summer program at the RIT's National Technology Institute for the Deaf and took a career aptitude test.
"I finished the IT test in 20 minutes. I began to think IT would be a good career.
I decided that IT was right for me when I was a senior in high school. I chose it because it does not emphasize heavily on programming like computer science, and it would give me a chance to apply what I learned in real-life situations. My family liked the idea of a major in IT. Nobody discouraged me."
Several scholarships and awards and assistance from her parents helped Betty finance her education. Her parents paid for much of the technology that she uses most often, including a computer, fax machine, and TDD. Personal earnings financed the technology that Betty, like many college students, found most liberating - a car.
After getting a bachelor's degree in 1999, Betty decided to continue with a master's degree, which will have a concentration in electronic commerce. She hopes to make electronic commerce her career, with a job in the United States that will convert her student visa into a green card. Summer internships and a co-op program have given Betty plenty of real-world exposure to American corporate cultures and experience in applying computer skills in business settings. She did a co-op at Lucent Technologies in Naperville, IL, and three ENTRY POINT! summer internships - one at the IBM Printing Systems facility in Boulder, CO, and two at IBM in Southbury, CT.
I decided that IT was right for me when I was a senior in high school. I chose it because it does not emphasize heavily on programming like computer science, and it would give me a chance to apply what I learned in real-life situations. My family liked the idea of a major in IT. Nobody discouraged me.
When Tao Eng and his family immigrated to the United States in 1991, 14-year-old enrolled in the International Studies Academy High School (ISA) in San Francisco. ISA's motto, "Tian xia yi jia," may describe the outlook Tao encountered almost everywhere in his new home. "We are one family under the sky."
As a person who is deaf in the People's Republic of China, Tao lived under a much different sky, where people with deafness were marginalized - and worse.
In the United States, the system worked for Tao as soon as he arrived. ISA found a way to teach him English and other topics. His superior intelligence was recognized and nurtured. A social service agency for people who are deaf helped to socialize him with weekend trips around the Bay area. State agencies kicked into gear with financial and other support. The 1950s-era hearing aids that he wore in China were replaced with modern units, without charge. He picked a college, just the way many American kids do; did internships at IBM and NASA; and is on track for a degree in 2001 in information technology from the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).
"In my wildest dreams in China, I never imagined that such a welcoming attitude could exist toward people with deafness and disabilities," Tao said. "Here, people who are deaf go to college like people who hear. They can have good jobs. IBM. NASA. People who are deaf were frowned upon in China. Society had very low expectations for them and other people with disabilities. Most people who are deaf in China are put to work in heavy industry, where they won't be bothered by the noise."
Tao was born in 1976 in Nanjing, a major city on the Yangtse River in eastern China. His father, Kee H. Eng, had a Ph.D. in geography, and his mother, Jane Eng, worked in an electronics factory. It was near the end of the Great Cultural Revolution, the upheaval ordered by Chinese Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong during his last years in power (1966 - 1976) to renew the spirit of the Communist revolution. Like many other intellectuals, Kee had been ordered to the countryside to work on a farm. After two years, Kee returned to Nanjing, and he and Jane faced what they call a "hand-to-mouth" existence, with the search for food, clothing, and warmth their top priority.
Dad and mom remember Tao as a bright kid and quick learner who learned to speak Mandarin before age two. He developed a serious infection at age two and was treated with a drug with a then-unrecognized toxic effect that left Tao deaf. Tao's only way of communicating with his parents and other people was by writing messages on paper in Chinese characters. Assistance for children who are deaf was minimal, with few government or social agencies to assist individuals with hearing loss.
At age seven, Tao entered the Nanjing School for the Deaf, where the 800 students were taught by teachers who were deaf as well as by teachers with hearing. Teachers who were deaf, who did not have the opportunity themselves for education beyond the high school level, taught sewing, art, and other basic courses. Teachers with hearing taught science, math, and other subjects. "The math and science teachers with hearing didn't expect much from us because we were deaf," Tao said. "Chinese society really frowned upon deafness."
Tao did not recall any particularly encouraging science or math teacher. The teachers were very strict and assigned a great deal of homework. Tao also learned Chinese Sign Language (CSL). Throughout this period, Tao's dad was a mentor who encouraged the young boy's interest in science.
"My goal was to be a physicist," Tao said. "I was curious about how things work. How they were designed. How they were put together. My dad always took the time to explain to me. He explained in writing, writing Mandarin characters. I remember taking toys and other things apart and putting them back together."
Tao learned CSL at school, but there was no provision for teaching parents.
They continued to communicate with Tao in writing. Although Tao was doing well in school and dreamed of becoming a scientist, his future was limited in China. Tao's education probably would have ended with high school, and he would have spent his life on an assembly line in a Chinese factory.
Kee and Jane realized that opportunities for individuals with disabilities - and for the whole family - were greater in the United States. In 1990, they decided to take Tao and his younger brother, Wei, to San Francisco, where Kee had relatives. After a year of paperwork, the Eng family was ready to knock on the golden door.
"It was very difficult," Tao said. "I didn't know American Sign Language. I didn't know English or even the alphabet. I had no friends in America. Plus, it was a different culture."
A welcoming society
Tao, however, found a welcoming atmosphere that quickly eased those concerns. The Engs lived with Tao's aunt in Chinatown. All three began learning English. Tao entered ISA, one of 25 students who are deaf among its population of 500. Classes were small and individualized, compared with the huge classes in China.
"I got a modern, small hearing aid that really worked. The school brought in an interpreter - for the first time in my life. We had TV with captions in school. I used TTY* for the first time and was thrilled to finally be able to use the telephone. We had closed-captioned TV at home. My parents used it, too. We were all learning English, and seeing the words helped a lot. Every Saturday, the Bay Area Society for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing took us places. They found another person who was deaf from Hong Kong for me to meet. I went to museums and saw things I never dreamed of. My dad explained and encouraged me to ask questions and be interested. There were camping trips and retreats with other people who were deaf that helped me in socializing and signing. I read a lot. The Chinese newspaper. The San Francisco Chronicle. Time magazine. Lots of books."
In high school, Tao attended a college fair and gathered information on prospective schools. Tao's parents hoped that he would stay close to home and attend a California school. Tao, instead, hoped for a school on the east coast, where he could discover a new part of the country. He applied to several schools in California, New York State, and Washington, DC. When no word came from his number one choice, RIT, Tao used his TTY to call and check. Good thing. His application had been lost. Tao applied again and was accepted.
Tao cited the impact of his ENTRY POINT! internships in bridging the knowledge and academic skills acquired at RIT with those required for success in a real-world workplace. "I have succeeded because I am a hard worker, and very motivated. I have good computer skills. However, I think the greatest factor was the internship program. It gave me work experience that will help me find a job. Without that, I could be unemployed." He did one internship in 1998 at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, MD. Two more followed in 1999 and 2000 at IBM's facility in San Jose, CA. His accommodations were a TTY and an interpreter. After Tao receives his B.S. in 2001, he will seek a full-time job or continue to study in a graduate program.
At NASA, Tao wrote several computer programs and worked on development of web pages. The IBM experiences included work as a software engineer in developing web pages and databases. In doing so, he gained new computer skills in using programs like Lotus 1-2-3, Freelance Graphics, and Approach that he had not learned at RIT.
"I also learned about self-confidence," Tao said. "I learned that I could work independently, without calling someone for help, because the IBMers trusted in me and my skills. I'd like to make IBM my career."
*The teletypewriter (TTY), also known as a TDD (telecommunication device for the deaf), is the most common way that people who are deaf communicate by phone. One person calls another on the phone and puts the telephone handset on the TTY. The other person answers with their TTY and types something like "Tao here GA [go ahead]." Then they take turns typing, using GA when it's time for the other person to type.
Seol-Ak, the third-highest mountain in South Korea, is located east of the Korean Peninsula. It is one of South Korea's most popular vacation spots. Among its visitors are thousands of hikers like Ben Kim, determined to scale its volcanic slopes.
Ben was a junior at Seoul National University (SNU) that winter day in 1991 when a sudden snowstorm stranded him and two companions on the mountain. Ben survived but lost both legs, which were amputated because of severe frostbite. When Ben left the hospital, now among those who "vary from the norm," he entered a previously unknown world difficult to imagine from afar.
While American advocates were celebrating the first anniversary of passage of the ADA, South Korean society still clung to the traditional attitudes cited by Lisa Nance.
"South Korean society was indifferent to people with disabilities," Ben said. "Regular schools say they don't have the facilities to teach students with disabilities. Individuals with disabilities just stay home for most of their life because everything outside is hard to handle for them."
People with disabilities make up about 2.4% of South Korea's 43 million population, according to Ministry of Health and Social Welfare data. Other estimates put the figure at 10%.
"Before the accident, I wasn't very aware of people with physical disabilities," Ben said. "I don't think I had any prejudice. But it's almost as if those with disabilities were invisible."
A barrier-full society...
After the accident, Ben became all too aware of the invisible societal attitudes and real physical barriers encountered by individuals with disabilities. "There were no automatic doors in Korea - physical or attitudinal. The staff at the hospital where my legs were amputated had not been supportive or offered any explanation of my care or advice for the future, because they had never before had such a patient. One physician did make an appointment for me with a colleague who was a psychiatrist. Almost every road has a curb, so a wheelchair cannot pass. Most public transportation does not have any facilities for people with disabilities. Students with disabilities go to special schools. The society does not a have system to help people with disabilities live as a normal person."
Ben lived at home with his parents, who both were in what he described as a state of shock at the accident and its consequences for Ben's future. Ben had been a healthy, athletic kid who played soccer, baseball, and other sports. He had never been hospitalized before the accident. Ben returned home in a wheelchair and later was fitted with prosthetic legs.
For son and parents, the first concern was whether Ben would be permitted to return to SNU and finish his engineering degree. "Students with disabilities were categorically not admitted to universities at that time."
After reviewing students' academic and other qualifications, universities admitted students provisionally - on condition that they pass a physical examination. The exam was relatively superficial, checking eyesight, hearing, and ability to move the limbs. It often missed serious diseases. Yet physical disabilities were detected easily, Ben said, and potential students with disabilities were excluded no matter how high their grades or test scores.
Universities maintained that they did not have facilities for students with disabilities or funds to make such facilities available. Ben pointed out that the situation has changed, thanks in part to a lawsuit won by a highly qualified student with disabilities who initially was denied admission to a university. The case encouraged other students with disabilities to follow suit.
...And university campus
Much to the relief of parents and son, Ben was allowed to return to SNU because his disability occurred after admission. When he arrived back on campus, six months after the accident, the university offered nothing in terms of accommodations. Ben stayed in a rented room near the university and went back and forth by taxi. On campus, he had to remain in the building that housed the engineering department all day. Although reasonably proficient with his artificial legs, Ben could not walk long distances. A wheelchair was of little use because of the lack of curb cuts and other physical barriers on campus. Ben recalled with gratitude friends who sometimes brought him lunch from the cafeteria or carried him piggyback when Ben was too tired to walk or was experiencing pain. Some of the professors were openly negative about having a student with disabilities in class. Some of his family members suggested implicitly that Ben abandon school and consider other options. But Ben's best friends encouraged him to finish his studies and helped him to do that.
The golden door beckons
Gradually, Ben grew more confident about finishing school. Ben credits his faculty advisor, Prof. Soon-dal Park, with offering constant encouragement that helped him persevere. Other professors admired Ben's perseverance and began to encourage him to continue his studies. After about six months, Ben was able to buy a motor scooter, which gave him much-needed mobility around campus.
Ben's best friend, Jeonghoon Mo, who worked in the same laboratory, was gathering information about graduate study in the United States. Ben began looking at the same web sites and applied to about a dozen American schools with industrial engineering or operations research programs. In 1996, after receiving a coveted Korean government scholarship for graduate study abroad, Ben headed for Stanford University.
There, of course, he found another world - not just the golden door of America, but the golden door of post-ADA America. "The social and legal environments were so much better in the United States," Ben said. "It was more than I ever dreamed of. I felt much more comfortable here, because every place seemed to have facilities and accommodations for people with disabilities."
Ben discovered the ENTRY POINT! program through Stanford's Disability Resource Center. His first ENTRY POINT! internship was in 1998 at the IBM facility in San Jose, where he developed software for use in e-business. During a second and third ENTRY POINT! internship at IBM, Ben developed interface software for IBM at the Almaden Research Center.
The ENTRY POINT! experiences convinced Ben that his career lies with IBM or another big multinational corporation. After completing his doctoral dissertation, Ben plans to work in a field called semi-definite programming, which has many applications in finance, electrical engineering, and other areas.
Ben regards the ENTRY POINT! experience as so valuable for students with disabilities that he hopes to establish a similar program in Korea. His advice to students with disabilities considering a science or engineering career?
"Have a dream. Remember that even though you have a physical disability you can do what others can do. Your brain is the key to success, not so much your body. You can do all the things that need a brain better than others."
Korea is so homogeneous, there is a
strong sense of community with very little emphasis on the individual.
Also, there is very little tolerance for those who vary from the norm.
The lack of tolerance exhibited by many Koreans is directed toward Koreans
who are variant in any way. Some of their beliefs and practices are
founded in what more progressive Koreans deem as superstition. Many
traditional Koreans believe that disabilities are a sign of sin on the
part of the parents, thus children bearing disabilities bring shame
and reproach upon their families. For this reason, many children with
even mild handicaps are either hidden or institutionalized. But I certainly
expected intelligent, well-educated teachers to hold a different opinion.
W hat are you doing, Daddy? Studying, Ivonne. Studying. What? Calculus. Differential equations. Matrix theory. That's nice. What's calculus?
A special way of figuring out problems, Ivonne. Let me show you. Go get a can of soup. That's called a cylinder, and it takes up a lot of space because it's three dimensional like a ball or a box, not flat like a sheet of paper. But it's really made of flat things, two-dimensional things. Peel off the label and you see a cylinder is made mostly from a rectangle. Now feel the top and bottom of the can. What's there?
Right. Two circles. In school you'll learn to study cylinders and other things by taking them apart and looking at the flat pieces. Later on in school, you'll have fun using calculus to study whole objects at the same time, and how they change.
Ivonne Mosquera remembered those days when she was seven and her dad, Cristobal, was studying for a bachelor's degree in computer science and explaining mathematical concepts with soup cans and other household objects.
"I knew math very early," she said. "Dad was a wonderful mathematician. He loved math, and I had a very positive image of math from dad while I was growing up. When teachers started explaining a concept in class, I'd realize, 'I've seen this before. I know this.' When I took calculus in high school, things really clicked, and I knew immediately that I'd study math in college." Ivonne got a bachelor's degree in math in 1999 from Stanford University.
Cristobal demonstrated some of those early mathematics concepts, such as graphing with multivariate calculus, by tracing lines on special paper to produce an elevated image that Ivonne could see by touch. Ivonne had been blind since 22 months of age. Born in 1977 in Venezuela to Colombian parents, Ivonne was diagnosed with retinoblastoma at 16 months of age. Retinoblastoma is a rare form of cancer that affects about 300 children annually in the United States. Cristobal and Consuelo took Ivonne and their two older daughters, Sandra and Liliana, to New York City, so that Ivonne could get the best treatment. Surgery and two years of chemotherapy cured the cancer but left Ivonne blind. The Mosqueras began a new life in the United States. Cristobal, who had been a bank director in Colombia, became a guidance counselor in Harlem while working on his computer science degree. Consuelo, a high school teacher in Colombia, became a teaching assistant at the New York Lighthouse for the Blind.
Ivonne attended nursery school at the New York Lighthouse for the Blind, Public School No. 6 (PS 6) (one of the top public schools in New York City), the New York City Lab School (a public school for gifted students), and went to high school at Trinity School. In each school, Ivonne had an Individualized Education Plan*. At Trinity, Ivonne had a special teacher, Rosie Vartorella, for an hour each day, who was paid by the Board of Education. She remembers a constant struggle with the Board of Education to keep the service. "If your parents don't fight for you, the Board of Education will just keep you in the Resource Class," Ivonne said. "It's really about the parents."
The most difficult times were in PS 6, Ivonne said. "Stanford was sometimes hard, but not like PS 6. No other little kids had this cane. In 3rd grade, it really hit me. Kids made fun of me. With the family and in church it was okay. I was very, very close to my two older sisters, and my mother and father were wonderfully supportive. All that allowed a normal life." One sister, Sandra, got a degree in speech pathology from Long Island University, and Liliana did undergraduate work at Barnard and received a master's degree in occupational therapy from Columbia University.
Other childhood experiences: mom and dad battling the local Board of Education to keep her in mainstream schools. Mom pulling strings to get Ivonne educated at better schools outside of their home district in Washington Heights, a Spanish-speaking area.
Several adults, aside from mom and dad, played influential roles in Ivonne's life.
One was Mr. Skahill, a mobility instructor who started working with Ivonne in kindergarten and continued until his death when Ivonne was in 3rd grade. Impressed with Ivonne's sense of direction, he encouraged Ivonne to navigate with a cane. "He got me to the point where I could walk around the school and on city streets without assistance," Ivonne said. "He taught me to listen for one-way traffic so I could cross streets alone, and he helped me to learn to use the bus system alone."
Another was Miss Joseph, the Resource Room teacher at PS 6, who was instrumental in keeping Ivonne in mainstream schools. "Miss Joseph helped me develop confidence and trust," Ivonne said, noting that the teacher encouraged her to travel around New York City's restaurants and stores. "She was my role model. At first, I wanted to be a teacher just like her. Later, I wanted to be an actress." Miss Joseph's daughter, Merrill Joseph, made a documentary film on Ivonne.
Ivonne first became aware of the legal framework for individuals with disabilities thanks to presentations by Educational Concepts and the Alliance for Mainstreaming Youth with Disabilities during 9th and 10th grades.
Ivonne was accepted at several colleges, including Stanford, MIT, and
Yale. She chose Stanford, and majored in mathematics.
Ivonne used several different kinds of assistive technology at Stanford, including textbooks taped by Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic and by Stanford. A teaching assistant graphed equations and drew other graphics with a raised-line kit. All of her math and science books were brailled.
Out-of-school experiences in the summer also had an influence. Ivonne worked one summer at the Second Stage Theatre and spent another as a participant in the Experiment in International Living in Normandy, France. In her junior year at Stanford, she spent one quarter in Paris. After graduation, she worked for a summer in Costa Rica for Mobility International.
Ivonne trained as a counselor another year at Paul Newman's summer camp for children with cancer, which she recalled as "an incredible experience." In the summer of 1999, she did an ENTRY POINT! internship with the National Science Foundation in Washington, DC, where Dr. Larry Scadden, who is also blind, was the program officer and her mentor.
Ivonne also developed poise and self-confidence as a participant in the Jacques Amboise National Dance Institute, a dance company for young people from all backgrounds. Together with other members of the company, she learned new choreography. She did ballet, jazz, and tap dancing, performing at places like the Lincoln Center in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington.
After getting a degree from Stanford in 1999, Ivonne took a job with Lighthouse International in New York, which involves database design. Future possibilities include law school and a new career combining her diverse knowledge and experiences. But her most recent accomplishment was climbing Mt. Kilamanjaro.
*The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is the cornerstone for the education of many children with disabilities. It is a written statement defining the educational goals for the school year and the special services that will be provided to meet the goals. IEPs are individualized to meet the unique needs of each child with disabilities. They are required under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
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Profiles: Assistive Technology | Persistence | Beyond All Expectations | Late Diagnosis | The Golden Door | Informal Science and Popular Culture | The Pinball Effect | Families
Additional Materials: The Roadmaps Game | Afterward | Students' Backgrounds | Assistive Technology | Notes on Disabilities | 1990s Profile of Students with Students in Higher Education | Acknowledgments | References
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